|The Red-eyed Vireo that hit my window; photo taken May 24, 2015|
Male and female Red-eyed Vireos are fairly identical, but I was pretty sure this was a male, because one had been singing away just a few minutes before the collision, and now there was silence. I could have peeked under him, looking for the cloacal protuberance that would have confirmed that he was a male, or for a brood patch that would have confirmed the opposite, but I felt too guilty that I’d gotten him in this horrible situation to put him through that indignity.
When I picked the little bird up, he was lethargic and kept one eye mostly closed for quite a while. I put him in a shoebox to let him rest in the darkness, though it seemed hopeless. But a half hour later, he was looking a bit more alert, though one eye wasn’t open as wide as the other yet. When he seemed steady and I started holding him on my finger, he didn’t show any interest at first, but little by little started noticing the lay of the land and turning his head at some bird songs. He grew steadier and more alert, and his left eye started looking a lot better. Finally, he took off and alighted in a box elder in the middle of my yard.
During the hour and a half that the bird was in my care, I did not hear a single burst of song or any other vireo vocalizations from my yard. After he finally flew off, I didn’t hear any songs or calls for a couple of hours or so, but then, suddenly, lovely vireo phrases started drifting into the house again.
The beauty of Red-eyed Vireos is soft and subtle rather than flashy. Their soft colors are accentuated by their eye line, dark-bordered cap, and bold red eye. I took several photos after the little guy looked like he’d make it—it was pretty amazing to get such great looks, even though the reason was such a sad one.
Many decades ago, Roger Tory Peterson estimated that the Red-eyed Vireo was the most abundant songbird over much of the continent due to its abundance in forested habitat. The species continues to be very common, but most ornithologists consider some birds with more generalized habitat needs, such as Red-winged Blackbirds and American Robins, to be much more abundant. This doesn't mean Red-eyed Vireos are in trouble, not by any means. Indeed, their numbers have increased fairly steadily since the Breeding Bird Survey was begun in the 1960s.